In many circumstances, the development of renewable energies is presented as a fundamental pillar of the energy transition. The professional associations representing the players in the wind and solar sectors have gained strength and are fighting a fierce battle for the development of the sectors they represent. Some famous NGOs like Greenpeace relay this vision.
But is it really appropriate? Is it right to engage so strongly in this way?
It would be inappropriate to misrepresent my point: it is not to question the validity of renewable energies. Most of them are essential to fight, in a timely manner, against global warming and to reduce CO2 emissions related to the energy sector, absolute priorities of the moment.
But recent work has shown the impact of solar photovoltaics and batteries, for example, on the rate of exploitation of rare metals, which is growing strongly. The ecological consequences of the over-exploitation are not measured through CO2 emissions, but they are nonetheless important and dramatic.
My intention is not to dissert to infinity on the appreciation of the future damage: they will be more or less important, but they will be. We have enough testimonials to be aware of their certain occurrence.
My purpose is to be aware, once again, that there is no ideal energy source that is also cheap, locally produced, continuously available and perfectly respectful of the environment.
In terms of respect of the environment, diversifying the energies allows to multiply the types of impact on the environment and, in parallel, to reduce their intensity. But beyond the mix of energy sources, the energy with the lowest impact on the environment is the one that we do not consume because it avoids the environmental consequences of all sources of energy possibly used.
Thus, the environmental impact of energy efficiency is universal as well as its economic interest: I make it without hesitation the first priority of any energy transition.
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Eric Morel is a worldwide recognised expert of energy transition and digitalisation. In the past, he has served as VP Corporate Business Strategy and VP Global Smart Grids and Energy Efficiency at Schneider Electric as well as CEO of Ilevo, a telecommunication start-up. He is a founding member and a former Board member of the Gridwise Alliance, the main professional private/public association dedicated to Smart Energy.